BIRMINGHAM, AL - NOVEMBER 18: Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Doug Jones takes questions from reporters at a fish fry campaign event at Ensley Park, November 18, 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama. Jones has moved ahead in the polls of his Republican opponent Roy Moore, whose campaign has been rocked by multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Meet Alabama's new Democratic Senator (2017)
02:13 - Source: CNN
Washington CNN  — 

Doug Jones became the first Democrat to win a Senate race in Alabama in a quarter century, and in doing so he provided yet another marker for the party as it looks to chart a course for the 2018 midterms and beyond. The recipe for a return to political relevance includes a combination of riding the wave of enthusiasm among key elements of the Democratic base (women, non-white voters, young people) while making inroads into college-educated voters, independents and the suburbs.

Democrat Ralph Northam used that formula to win the race for Virginia governor last month. As is evident from the exit polls, Jones followed a similar course on his way to a narrow yet stunning victory in the Yellowhammer State Tuesday night.

Related: Full exit poll results

African-American vote key for Jones

For Jones to win it was widely expected he would need African-American voters to turn out at a rate close to what Barack Obama saw in his 2008 and 2012 presidential runs. Sure enough, they did. Black voters made up 29% of the Alabama electorate in 2017, matching their share of the 2008 vote and a point more than their 28% showing in 2012. Jones won the group by a 96% to 4% margin.

Black women were 17% of the electorate on Tuesday and they broke for Jones by an even wider margin – 98% to 2%.

Young voters were Jones fans

Jones won voters between the age of 18 and 29 by 22 points on Tuesday, with that group making up 13% of the Alabama electorate. Democrats traditionally perform well with younger voters, but in 2012 Mitt Romney edged out Obama among those voters in Alabama 52% to 48%. In such a close race, that swing in Jones’ favor proved significant.

Women – especially moms – backed Jones

There was a sharp gender gap in Alabama on Tuesday, with Jones winning women by 16 points while Moore had a 14-point advantage among men. Among women with children, Jones outperformed Moore by 34 points. One explanation: 48% of mothers said the allegations against Moore were an in important factor in their votes, while 46% said it was not an important factor. White moms were more likely to say the accusations were an important factor (37%) than white women without kids (32%).

Independents swung to Jones

Independents only comprised 21% of the electorate in Alabama on Tuesday, but they were critical to Jones’ path to victory. The Democrat won them by eight points – 51% to 43% – a striking swing from the 2012 presidential contest when Romney beat Obama with independents by 52 points.

Jones picked up some Republicans

Part of Jones’ strategy during the campaign was to appeal to Republican voters wary of Moore’s fiery brand of conservatism and history of controversial comments. That approach appeared to pay off, with Jones winning 21% of moderate or liberal Republicans. Contrast that with 2012, when Romney claimed that group over Obama by a 99% to 1% score.

Big movement with college grads

Another notable swing in the Alabama electorate came among college graduates, with Jones besting Moore by 11 points with that group. In 2012, Romney had a 24-point advantage with college graduates. Drilling down on those numbers – Moore won white college graduates by a healthy 17-point spread. But he significantly underperformed Romney, who won that group by 59 points.

The dramatic suburban shift

While Jones wasn’t quite Rockin’ the Suburbs Ben Folds-style, he closed the gap in those areas, and blew out the margins in Alabama’s urban parts. Jones lost suburban voters by a slim four-point margin, 51% to 47%, but he did much better than Obama in 2012, who was crushed by 33 points against Romney.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that black voters in Alabama made up 29% of the electorate in 2008, not 30%.